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The Pittsburgh Steelers knew one of their biggest downfalls of the 2020 season was their inability to rush the football with any sort of consistency over the final five games.
The team watched as starter James Conner inked a deal with the Arizona Cardinals, and heading into Thursday’s draft, the team basically had Benny Snell along with Anthony McFarland Jr. and offseason pickup Kalen Ballage.
That all changed late Thursday, as the Steelers selected running back Najee Harris from Alabama as the 24th overall pick in the draft.
Harris was ranked by many as the No. 1 or 2 running back in the draft, so it wasn’t a shock when the Steelers selected Harris at 24.
The Steelers have had their issues in the run game since the club lost running back Le’Veon Bell a few years back, and while Conner had done a nice job, he just hasn’t been the impact player that Bell was. The offense and team as a whole suffered as a result.
Now with Harris on the roster, the team feels confident that they can quickly turn the run game around for 2021, taking pressure off quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“We made the comparison and I started throwing this out, but the Najee Harris to Matt Forte-Le’Veon Bell comparison is valid,” NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks said.
“I think if you’re Mike Tomlin and that staff, and you think about the last time they were really dynamic and explosive on offense, it was when they had Le’Veon Bell playing at a high level. Not multiple backs, they had one back that could do it all. He could run it. He could catch it. He could go outside — Najee Harris is the one player that I thought had some of that.
“And I think they’ve tried to say, ‘Hey let’s get the back and get the offensive line fixed, but let’s take these second and third-round backs,’ but for them, it hasn’t worked. James Conner didn’t necessarily work. They tried to do it with Benny Snell. They tried to take the McFarland kid from Maryland. So they’ve thrown a handful of guys at the position, and nobody has emerged.
“So I think they were like, ‘Hey let’s see if we can get a blue-chip guy and see if we can fix the running game by upgrading the personnel in the backfield more than dealing with the guy on the frontline.’”
Another player that Harris appears to look like is bruiser Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans. NFL Network co-host Daniel Jeremiah said that Harris’ running style reminds him of the leading rusher of the AFC, who ran for 2027 yards in 2020.
“The only thing I would say on the Najee thing is, I thought a little bit similar to Derrick Henry is that you do need to give him a runway,” Jeremiah said.
“He’s not going to make up for the sins, if you’re terrible up front. You’ve got to get some guys that can get some push up front for him.”
The Steelers have high hopes for their run game in 2021. Make no mistake, it starts with Harris, who will have plenty of burden on his shoulders to lead the team’s run game this upcoming season.